Review of Dunkirk

On leaving the cinema, I felt moved and a little seasick after 2 hours in Nolan’s stylishly be-washed version of the Dunkirk evacuation. Looking back, however, I do think he missed quite a few tricks. More sea and sky than man and action. And the dialogue? Sparse, garbled and inaudible. Tom Hardy’s aviator goggles will probably get the Oscar for looking up…Then down…Then up… Perplexed yet calm.

Branagh and Rylance get their teeth stuck in, no question, but the screenplay doesn’t give them so much as a tin of spam to chew on. Lank grey scenes lap the repetitive sinking-ship action, as each new batch of grey extras topple off the decks. One or two figures form a bond and are distinguished from the crowd with a few close ups, but we’re given little to latch on to.

The rich tapestry of Dunkirk stories that could have populated the shores of both France and Britain, are not here – The tales within and behind the queues for boats, the tales of heroism from the civilian seamen from other side, are carried solely in Mark Rylance’s father-son skiff team, splashes of colour in desperate need of background.

The scale of the recovery feat, termed ‘The Miracle of Dunkirk’, the sheer number of men and the relatively small number of tiny boats that ferried them all back, (over 300,000 men in only 700 brave boats, back and forth, in just over a week) did not come across, visually or mentally.

It would be interesting to ask the veteran rescuers if they think Nolan did the scale of their efforts justice. Perhaps they weren’t the focus he was after. But, of all the lenses he could have put over Dunkirk, it seems to me he chose a very obvious one and lost the chance to distinguish Dunkirk from other war films.

What was unique about Dunkirk and why it is now known as ‘The Miracle of Dunkirk’ was that it demonstrated human capacity for hope and fearless altruism, en masse, collectively.  Not the old story, tired and tested in every war film – man saves men.  This one could have been different – hundreds of ordinary people of various ages and both sexes, getting up and going, against all odds, for the greater good, at the last minute, together. Rylance’s civilian voice was good but it could never be broad enough to hold all that water. Nolan needed to scale up the message. It would have been a timely one.

Further reading

That said – Nolan’s Dunkirk has done a good job in whetting my appetite for Dunkirk, or at least what ended up in the editing room floor.

‘Dunkirk, the History behind the motion picture’

‘The Little Ships of Dunkirk’

‘The Little Ships’ (tale for your little ones not lucky enough to be able to sit on great-grand-parents’ knees,  told from a girl’s perspective)

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Love toucan

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Taking a closer look at this picture – I was surprised to find that there is no colour in the dazzlingly tropical toucan that isn’t also shared with it’s decidedly non-tropical, ephemeral surroundings.

The blue of the toucan’s eye socket makes the blue in the rim of the garden water pools more vivid. The orange glow of the toucan’s ‘eye shadow’ and beak somehow give the stale crusts in the tray below a tropical zest.  The unimaginably white softness of the toucan’s neck and the warm sandy yellow round its lapels light up the cheap beige repetition of the tiled patio.

Turner Prize-winning  artist Wolfgang Tillmans’ exhibition at the Tate Modern opens today. With this toucan and other shots,  Tillmans demonstrates his principle of creating an image and not just a photo.

Each ‘image’ is not simply a capturing of a fleeting moment for our attention. It combines both passive observation and choreography. The photographer, in the taking and the developing, has made a set of choices that we could not make with the naked eye. Wolfgang has cited colour as one of the elements which the photographer uses to steer our view.

And so it’s not just a portrait of a toucan, but also it’s an exercise in colour appreciation. Through it we realise that our  appreciation of colour is subject to context.

This has the unexpected subconscious side-effect of cheering up my dreary afternoon loo-trip – the ‘CAUTION CLEANING IN PROGRESS!’ flip board sign outside the Ladies is somehow less exasperating, I’m actually rather uplifted by it’s harmony of yellow and red, like the cheeky curved smile of a toucan’s bill. Subject for the next Turner Prize 😉 ?

More Tillmans and toucans

See the Toucan in real life at the Tate

Watch the artist himself discuss his approach to photography

Endless Poetry is endlessly poetic

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Last Sunday was grey and empty  until I found myself in the cinema, in the strange comfort of octogenarian Chilean directing legend Alejandro Jodorowsky’s latest film, Endless Poetry.

I had bought my ticket on a whim – All I knew was that it was in Spanish, in Chile and might be a little weird and poetic, as the title suggested.  What I got was the most eye-opening, jaw-dropping two hours and 8 minutes of 2017 so far, unless Jodorowsky’s sequel comes out this year…

And I’m so pleased, in these unsavoury times, that there are 4 more delicious courses I’ve yet to eat, that Endless Poetry is the second in a 5 part film cycle, that there’s  The Dance of Reality and soon the other 4 will be ready…

Meantime, instead of giving away the menu of his surreal feast of a film, I’m going to list the thoughts that have fed me (not without a little indigestion) ever since…

…It doesn’t matter if it’s written on a wall or floorboard and no one but the poet will ever read it, everything disappears eventually; prayers are like poems, they are never seen but always needed by the prayer…

…Everything is beautiful, even and especially the mutations of normality…

…Anyone can walk in a straight line to anywhere they want to go; obstacles are illusions we can erase…

…Also, alongside linear there is cyclical, since maths is inexplicable; life is a cycle, returning to where it came from and filled with returns all along a direct way…

…Meantime Death is always there; suicide is blindness…

…Through misguided fear, we hide and make ourselves up like clowns.

… In reality, reality is up for grabs, and so we have nothing to hide and nothing to show…

…The naked soul and body are uplifting and captivating and no less so for being marked and scarred by the passage through life…

…We are all puppeteers and our puppets dance together. When we are holding our  puppet-selves, our own identity is unclear and maybe this is because…

…We are connected to each other…

…That we are each exclusively in charge of ourselves is an illusion…

…In reality we are all in the same puppet show together and share manipulation mutually, all our limbs are up for grabs to the nearest puppeteer…

…And with this power, love  is not in the keeping, it’s in the letting go, the negation of the urge to manipulate, the diffusion of our fixed idea, it’s acceptance – no interference, no orchestration; just the acknowledgement of a God in the other person, the godliness that is beyond perfection….

…The job of poetry is not to have to say it all like this, in a clumsy list, in so many words, but to say it in fewer and to trigger a response that lasts forever in the consciousness, which is universal, and endless.

The job of this film  is to demonstrate poetry, in action, and indeed it accomplishes this almost impossible task, sometimes effortlessly, perhaps endlessly.

Muchas Gracias Mr Jodorowsky!

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Wiki links worth looking up:

Endless Poetry

The Dance of reality

World’s best comic, written by the Alejandro Jodorowsky

 The Holy Mountain, funded by John Lennon

Psychomagic psychotherapy, pioneered by Alejandro Jodorowsky

Interview with Alejandro Jodorowsky about where he thinks things are heading

Interview with the FT and general overview of Alejandro Jodorowsky

King Lear: Glenda V Anthony

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And so out they come and stand in the spotlights to two rounds of standing ovations. I stand up to put my coat on and leave, no one will miss my feeble claps amid the din of whoop whoops.

What have I missed? Why does Glenda and her stellar crew leave me numb? There was nothing in this production that was any better, to me, than any of the productions I’ve ever seen. There was much that was was unnecessary at best; at worst, a smutty distraction from the glory of the text.

But this audience and no doubt the packed house watching tonight, lapped up every drop of mostly dreary, conveyor-belt delivery, washed down with large glasses of “shocking” nudity, loud “atmospheric” music and stark lighting that, from a purely practical perspective, made long tracks of the best scenes, however loudly throttled out,  almost  inaudible, let alone moving.

The best thing about it was the digital display overhanging the stage, telling us what act and scene we were on. I found myself looking at it more and more with that sinking feeling you get when the next bus isn’t for another 25 minutes, finding myself hoping there’d been a tech hitch and the final scene was already “due”.

In contrast, the Barbican’s Anthony Sher-led production was the triumph that critics should hail as one of the best  since John Hurt and Timothy West,and,  I’d say, better. But for Anthony and co, there was no standing ovation.

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Why? Because it was a great tragedy. We should all be highly suspicious of any tragic play that leaves you with enough energy to get up afterwards, let alone smile, clap and chat to your neighbor about how good it all was, not least Glenda.

Sher and his troop, through 5 acts and almost 3 hours , truly suspended my disbelief. Not for a half line did I look up to see if the scene’s ticking was digitally indicated overhead. Not for a second did I think I am here watching a load of celeb actors reciting Shakespeare like it needed their help, another language peppered with the odd ‘top ten  catchphrases of all time”.

No, unlike Deborah Warner’s Old Vic production, Gregory Doran’s Barbican show was life, on stage, and we were on it too, with the actors, just as Shakespeare intended. Every line had its own intrinsic timeless resonance, which was then expanded, sometimes creating new and unusual contexts, sometimes merely amplifying well-known interpretations, always keeping us hooked.

The bad characters were not all bad, the good characters were not all good, there was nuance. All parts had their nuances and got subtle treatment, whereas it seemed at the Old Vic that all the characters dangled off Glenda’s Lear like annoyingly obnoxious puppets she had grown bored of or lost the skill to move. To Warner’s credit, perhaps that was the point?

The props and scenery at the Barbican worked to evoke a sense of the play’s contexts, amplifying subtly, never clumsily varnished on for ‘effect’, always using and trusting the weight of voice and text. I won’t say how or carry on with any comparisons. Anyone who sees it should come at it fresh. You’ll leave utterly drained yet uplifted.

The Barbican’s production was the best I’ve ever seen, the Old Vic’s one of the worst. But that’s just me and most may disagree, I’d just say, ignore the media hype around Glenda and take advantage of the fact Sher’s reigns on at the Barbican until 23rd December 

What makes a portrait great?  

Photographs capture a moment in time.  In exchange for the depth and truth of this one moment, photographs risk loosing the whole truth of all the other moments that have brought it to the viewer.

Saint-Exupéry, in  The Little Prince,  says ‘What is essential is not seen’.  A great portrait can be entirely abstract or ‘warts and all’; the final goal should never be  to get a visual likeness, but to take us to unseen dimensions, beyond the skin.

A bad portrait  can be replaced by a photograph. A great portrait layers experience over appearance, to conjure up something that’s part of time and yet beyond it.

Many of the portraits in this year’s exhibition pointed towards this extra dimension.

The National Portrait Gallery’s 2016 BP Portrait Award runs until September

 

Recommended reading

‘Diversion’ by Charlie Masson, oil on board, shown above

The Little Prince by Antoine Saint-Exupéry

The origin of the phrase ‘warts and all

Written by women for all Mankind

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Last Sunday I was about to get on the tube for 1.5 hours and needed something to read that wasn’t the news. Upton Park Newsagents had run out of all women’s mags except one. Womankind. A new magazine that is currently running it’s 5th issue.

Why the magazine should find itself here, in the home of West Ham football, amidst a sea of random, male – oriented periodicals is anyone’s guess.  It’s the only magazine  I’ve ever paid £5.99 for and don’t regret a single penny.  It kept my attention from cover to cover, every single page, and there are 129 of them, no ads.

It covers so much in such a consistently considered and beautifully laid out way.  Be you man or woman,  it’s choc full of mind-treats – from  the great art of the world, the opportunity to expand life beyond the daily grind, the latest on the workings of the brain and the pleasure taken in a nice picture of a bird with a bit of info you didn’t know and weren’t searching for but feel better and wiser for having absorbed…

womankindmag.com

To be or not to be a woman

Linda

Step aside Nicole. Although intended for Kim Cattrall, Penelope Skinner’s new play ‘Linda’ is no celebrity vehicle feebly driving a ready – made feminist message.

This is a play that gives you an idea of what it might have been like to watch a Greek tragedy as a Greek woman.

Here is the power and powerlessness of women writ large, “Changing the world one girl at a time” .The word woman is the elephant in the room. It’s dangerous, it could lead to depression or worse…

Why? The play explores what it is to be a woman, now, through the eyes of a typically dysfunctional modern family. The play’s 5 women/girls face all the new “millenial” challenges, front – loaded with the old.

It’s staged on bright and wrinkle – free sufaces that ingeniously rotate us around and through Linda, the career – driven mother’s shiny, mirror-strewn, self – made world.

Work and home sets ingeniously pry into and reflect off eachother and back at the audience, showing what all the play ‘ s 5 female cast feel –   The pressure to be, do and have everything, on display, with beauty as your foundation, funded by a far greater ad spend than “Truth”.

If ‘Linda’ means ‘the beautiful’, I’d love to task Penelope Skinner’s ingenious pen to write a sequel entitled ‘Vera’,  ‘the true’.

Catch Linda in her last week at London’s Royal Court Theatre.